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Miami physician-professor travels to West Africa to evaluate Ebola response. (CNS photo/courtesy Florida International University)

Breaking Ebola

Six months into the unprecedented outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa, the United States and international community are finally trying to catch up to the crisis. On Sept. 16 President Obama committed 3,000 military personnel and $750 million to coordinate relief efforts. Two days later the United Nations Security Council convened its first emergency meeting on a public health crisis, unanimously declaring the epidemic “a threat to international peace and security.”

The question now is: Will these efforts be enough to avoid what health officials see as possible worst-case scenarios? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone, two of the hardest hit countries, could reach between 550,000 and 1.4 million by January absent “additional interventions or changes in community behavior.” But the C.D.C. director, Tom Frieden, held out hope, saying that if 70 percent of Ebola patients receive proper care, the disease could run its course by mid-January and that the recent surge in global support is “exactly what’s needed.”

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The next couple of months will be especially crucial, and few institutions can deploy as rapidly as the U.S. military or match its logistical capabilities. But if and when this fever breaks, it will be worth asking whether this is the best way to confront health emergencies. The World Health Organization is the natural alternative, but it has come under criticism for its slow response to the escalating Ebola epidemic. W.H.O., however, is only as effective as U.N. members make it, and it went into West Africa underfunded and understaffed. The time for properly funding its efforts was yesterday, but the international community can still come together to prevent the next crisis.

United Front on Climate

On an overcast Sunday, Sept. 21, veterans of protest who marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam War in the 1960s joined hands with over 300,000 citizens of every generation, social and economic class, religion and political commitment to walk 2.2 miles through Midtown Manhattan shouting and carrying banners: “Wake up, America”; “The dinosaurs didn’t see it coming, either.”

A nearly block-long string of marchers carried a banner so enormous it could be read only from a distance: “Capitalism Is Killing the Planet.” While delegates prepared for the upcoming United Nations climate summit, the boisterous crowd marched along singing “We Shall Overcome.” Jesuit scholastics, Sisters of Charity, Capuchin Franciscans from Rome, rabbis, imams, victims of Hurricane Sandy, movie stars, jazz bands and politicians made this People’s Climate March—the largest of the 2,646 climate-change events held in 156 countries that day—radiate a moment of hope while the planet warmed, oceans rose, species of wildlife disappeared, the food supply shrank and we whom God made stewards of creation learned that we must act, even sacrifice, to save our planet.

We know that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air is now 42 percent above pre-Industrial Revolution levels and that human activity has warmed the planet by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If this trend continues for the next 30 years, The New York Times reports, the temperature “would likely be incompatible with human civilization in its current form.” If we fail to stem these rising tides, the marchers warned us, “There Is No Ark.”

The Internet Wants to Be Free

“Net neutrality” does not sound like a term that would arouse much passion. Yet more than a dozen religious bodies, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have issued a sharp joint letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging policymakers to keep the Internet “neutral” for the benefit of all of its users.

“We are concerned about paid prioritization and other policies that will increase costs and limit opportunities for our organizations and the communities we serve,” the statement said. The letter comes as the F.C.C. considers the possibility of a “two-tiered” Internet that would allow service providers to charge companies like Netflix a premium for delivering faster service.

On the blog of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Sept. 16, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City argued: “Instead of adopting rules that permit the wealthiest companies to purchase the best service, the F.C.C. should insist on fair treatment for everyone, no matter our income.”

Bishop Wester contends that a bifurcated system would harm religious and nonprofit groups, which would be unable to pay for premium speed. This would make it more difficult for them to communicate with their members and promote their online activities. Over time large content providers would come to dominate the digital realm. Religious groups already have a difficult time conveying their message in the din of our commercialized culture. They deserve equal treatment from government regulators. A free and equal Internet should be an essential condition of our digital age.

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